If you are looking for good Key Largo snorkeling, you need to get on a boat. The boat tours start in two places: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Key Largo. You will find the best snorkel spots are out on or near the barrier reef. Your only option for shore snorkeling in the area is the state park, but it is not free or very good.
Overall Key Largo snorkeling is much better than the Key West area. But generally there are more spectacular snorkel spots in the keys between Key Largo and Key West, what we call the Middle Keys.
Regardless, this page will help you make the best of your Key Largo snorkeling adventure. Read advice about choosing a boat tour and find more information about the healthiest, best snorkeling reefs in the area.
Most of the popular Key Largo snorkeling reefs are just outside the Pennekamp park boundaries and are in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that protects most of the waters within the Florida Keys. Why mention this? Because most people take snorkel boat trips that leave from within the park. But there are lots of other options to take trips with snorkel companies stationed close by outside the park. And they all go to the same places, all outside the park. There is also the added benefit that you do not need to pay the entrance or parking fees for the park in addition to the boat trip cost.
And from our experience the boat trips from within Pennekamp are very crowded, and we have witnessed them running trips in wind and wave conditions that are not enjoyable for snorkeling, conditions that canceled trips with other companies. We talked with passengers returning from one of these trips and they said that while it was still fun, it was pretty miserable snorkeling.
You have lots of options for snorkel boat trips from outside the park in Key Largo. It is a very popular activity. You can go on snorkelers only trips that leave from harbors in Key Largo or nearby docks. You can also get on boats that mix snorkelers and divers. But we would recommend that whenever possible, get on a boat that is snorkeling only. Search TripAdvisor's Things to Do in Key Largo for reviews on the boat company you are considering.
You can also book a private snorkeling charter in Key Largo which we recommend. You get to visit great snorkel spots the large boats don't visit, and you can do it with your own group. If you don't have a group, there are companies that only allow 6 passengers, and still go to the better reefs.
When you explore the snorkel spots below keep in mind one funny thing about pretty much all the boat companies in Key Largo. They don't seem to want to tell you specifically where they are taking you. They almost all say "the captain will select the best location depending on the conditions". But if you are like us and take a lot of snorkel trips, you kind of want to know, so that you are not going back to the same places. We found it helpful to try and talk to the actual captain of the boat. They tended to be more straight forward about their day's destination than the desk folks.
Well, unfortunately we have not been able to snorkel as many spots in Key Largo as we would like because we had a solid week of 15 to 20 knots winds when we were there. Bummer! So we only were able to get out to a couple of spots. The good news is that we get to go back! But we will share what we learned about where to snorkel below.
The most popular attraction for snorkeling in Key Largo is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This was America's first undersea park. It is a beautiful park to visit, both the park grounds with it's wonderful beaches and places to walk, as well as it's underwater treasures. We encourage you to explore the park, but we generally recommend you take a snorkel tour with a company outside the park.
The only Key Largo snorkeling from shore is at either of the two designated beaches in Pennekamp Park. The beaches access an enclosed bay that has a sea grass bottom and is surrounded by mangroves. You may see some fish and other critters, but you won't see any corals. There are also the remains of a Spanish shipwreck about 100 feet out from the beach that you may find interesting. But, it simply does not compare in any way to visiting the offshore reefs.
This was a wonderful snorkeling spot that had the healthiest patch of huge soft corals we have ever seen anywhere. We got to this reef by a private snorkeling charter.
This is one of the most visited coral reefs in the world, and for good reason. If you get a chance, this should be on the top of our list for Key Largo snorkel spots, if the weather is calm.
Here is another of the most visited spots in the keys. There is a 9 foot tall bronze statue of Christ planted on the ocean floor. It is pretty interesting to see, although a bit deep for snorkelers to appreciate as much as divers.
And Dry Rocks is a good snorkeling spot that is most often combined as a second location along with the Christ of the Abyss.
For some reason almost all the boat companies go out to this area in the afternoons only.
This spot is where all of the large boats will take you when it is windy. There are fish to see here, but the reef is not very healthy and when the wind and waves are up the visibility is not good either.
This is another favorite snorkeling spot, particularly of the bigger catamaran snorkel boat companies leaving from Key Largo.
That is it for our Key Largo snorkeling information.
If you need other travel info, you might find TripAdvisor's Key Largo page helpful in your planning.
A Great Caribbean Snorkeling Fish Guide